The Internet has made amazing things possible, like freeing the Jena 6 and electing President Obama. None of it could have happened without an "open" Internet: one where Internet service providers are not allowed to interfere with what is seen and by whom.
Now, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon -- the most powerful broadband providers -- are trying to fundamentally change the way the Internet works. They're seeking to make even bigger profits by acting as gatekeepers over what we see and do online. If they succeed, the Internet would be more like radio and television: a few major corporations would control which voices are heard most easily, and it would be much harder for grassroots groups, individuals, and small businesses to compete with large corporations and well-funded special interests.
The FCC wants to do the right thing and keep the Internet open, but the big providers have been attacking their efforts, with help from Black leaders who have financial ties to the industry. And a recent court ruling just made the FCC's job even tougher. If the FCC is to preserve an open Internet, they will have to boldly assert their authority and press even harder. It's why they need to hear directly from everyday people about the importance of an open Internet, now.
Will you join me in sending a message to the Federal Communications Commission supporting their effort to preserve an open Internet? It takes only a moment:
The FCC is working to create rules that would protect "net neutrality," the principle that protects an open and free Internet and which has guided the Internet's operation since it began. It guarantees that information you put online is treated the same as anyone else's information in terms of its basic ability to travel across the Internet. Your own personal website or blog can compete on equal footing with the biggest companies. It's the reason the Internet is so diverse -- and so powerful. Anyone with a good idea can find their audience online, whether or not there's money to promote the idea or money to be made from it.
AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon are spending millions of dollars lobbying to create a new system where they can charge large fees to speed up some data while leaving those who can't afford to pay in the slow lane. Such a system could end the Internet as we know it -- giving wealthier voices on the Internet a much bigger megaphone than poorer voices, and stunting the Internet's amazing equalizing potential.
Buying the support of Black organizations?
President Obama strongly supports net neutrality, and so do most members of the FCC. With so much at stake for Black communities, you would expect Black leaders and civic organizations to line up in support of an open Internet.
But instead, a group of Black civic organizations is challenging the adoption of net neutrality rules. Some of the groups are nothing more than front groups for the phone and cable companies. Others, however, are major civil rights groups -- and all of them have significant financial ties to the nation's biggest Internet service providers. For example, AT&T donated half a million dollars last year to the NAACP, and led a drive to raise $5 million more, and boasts of donating nearly $3 million over the last ten years to a number of Black-led organizations. Verizon, meanwhile, recently gave The National Urban League and the National Council of La Raza a $2.2 million grant. Comcast is one of the National Urban League's "national partners" (Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen now sits on the NUL's Board of Trustees), and the NUL's 2008 annual report notes that Comcast donated over $1 million that year. Many of these groups have now filed letters with the FCC opposing or cautioning against net neutrality,[8,9,10,11] and the Internet service providers are using the groups' support to promote their agenda in Washington.[12,13]
The main argument put forth by these groups is that net neutrality rules would widen the digital divide. They say that unless we allow Internet service providers to make bigger profits by acting as gatekeepers online, they won't expand Internet access in under-served communities. It's a bogus, trickle-down argument that has been thoroughly debunked.[14, 15] Expanding access to high speed Internet is an extremely important goal. But Internet service providers are already making huge profits,[16, 17] and if they believed that investing in low-income communities made good business sense, they would already be doing it. Allowing them to make more money by acting as toll-takers on the Internet won't change that. When these civil rights groups have been asked to back up their arguments, none have been able to do so without appealing to discredited, industry-funded studies. Nevertheless, the FCC has taken notice of what these civil rights gro ups are saying about net neutrality, and is wary of going against them for fear of being perceived as insensitive to minority concerns.
Now it's up to you
The FCC wants to do the right thing and implement net neutrality rules. FCC commissioners know, as we do, that the anti-net neutrality arguments coming from civil rights groups are bogus. But they don't want to appear to be on the wrong side of Black interests.
We need to demonstrate that there's support among Black folks and everyone else for protecting an open Internet. Please join me in telling the FCC that we support net neutrality.
You can add your voice here: